The Driving Story

These days I am doing a lot of commuting back and forth to Raliegh. Last night I finished teaching a class at nine at night and I had to be back in the same place at 8:30 this morning to set up to teach another class. Thankfully late at night there is no traffic to slow me down, but that is not always the case in the morning rush hour. The only thing that is saving me on all this back and forth travel are the books on audible I listen to.

Currently I am 17 hours into Jonathan Franzen’s 24 hour long book Crossroads. It has kept me enthralled enough to look forward to getting in the car and not necessarily getting right out when I arrive home. Sometimes I sit in the driveway finishing a chapter, which is always dangerous because then I want to go right on to the next chapter. I have kept the book playing on my phone and come inside, but find there are certain chores that are more compatible with listening to a book and some that are not.

Driving is an excellent time to listen, especially if I already know where I am going. Gardening is also a prime listening activity, along with mopping, and cleaning the kitchen. I have made whole complicated quilts while listening without an issue. Things that I can’t do at the same time as listening to a book are reading, especially mail, either paper or “e,” writing something by hand that is longer than a couple of sentences or doing math.

It is terrible when a text comes in while I am listening. I often will read the text and even respond and then realize I have missed some of the important plots points. It is so interesting that I can’t multitask the same way when listening to a book as I can when listening to music.

Thanks to my pandemic book club of three very literary friends who keep me supplied with good and well written things to listen to. The list in the past year has been much more high brow than I would have chosen on my own. Some of my favorites to listen to in the recent past have been,The Midnight Library, Snow by John Banville, Hamnet, and The Lincoln Highway.

During the real lockdown days of the pandemic I was reading real books and not listening as much so that I could have the book to share with friends when I was done, but as life picked up a little, especially since the summer I have found myself downloading books much more. I can’t drive and read a paper book, although in all my years of travel I have seen plenty of people doing that. They were obviously too busy reading while driving to notice me waving my hands out the window screaming at them. I know that making the same drive over and over again is boring, so than goodness for audible. I can listen and drive, but I can’t read and drive.


Sock of Dismay

Shay doesn’t like me leaving home to go teach Mah Jongg. Russ says she mopes around when I leave. She still has Russ who is her preferred human. I am quite surprised she even notices when I’m gone. Last week when I was gone for three days and nights Russ says she stood at the top of the stairs looking down to the garage door waiting for me to appear. So sad.

Today I think she thought life was back to normal. I woke up and cooked a bunch of food for friends who are sick. I changed the sheets and did some other equally uninteresting house work. Shay was happy as a clam. Then I tricked her and left the house late in the afternoon to deliver the food and go teach night Mah Jongg class.

I came home to find that Shay had deposited one of Russ’s dirty socks right in between two freshly changed pillows on our bed. S thankfully they were between the middle pillows and not my, nor Russ’ pillows, but still. It was the act of defiance. The only one she could think of to register her unhappiness.

Thank goodness she did not realize she could have pee’d on the bed to really let me know she was mad. Please don’t mention this to her. Right now she is happily stretched out next me. All is right in the world, until I leave tomorrow at 7:45 to go teach morning Mah Jongg. Since it’s just one class, she might not realize I am gone as she likes to stay in bed late into the morning these days.


Not Watching Jeopardy Tomorrow

I never should have written a blog about Amy’s winning streak on Jeopardy. I feel like it was a jinx. Of course I know that’s not true, but I do feel incredibly sad that her streak is over. She was a most impressive player. The good news for me is I just looked at my calendar and I am teaching mah Jongg 8 evenings in the next month and that was going to prevent me from watching Amy in real time. I was already worrying about when I was going to be able to catch up with her playing and now I don’t have to worry about that.

Amy did a wonderful thing to show a trans person in a superior light. She wasn’t only an excellent player, but she appeared to be a nice, kind and humble person. Congratulations to her on the fabulous accomplishment. During these boring Covid days it was nice to have a winner to get behind.

For me, I am going to sign off tonight and be a little sad that tomorrow I won’t get to watch Amy.


Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my Mom’s 84th birthday! I was lucky enough to get to go up to her house and take her to lunch with my sister Janet. My Mom has had quite a year. Selling her apartment in Washington and my parents big farm where they have lived for the past twenty year. Moving to a new house my father built and then loosing him three months later. When she was on her way to turn my father’s truck into the dealership a deer ran in front of her for the first time doing major damage, but not hurting my mother. She also has major eye problems. It’s just been a lot.

Despite all that she has been a real trooper. I think had known she known what was around the next corner it would have been too much, but she has done what she needs to do to keep going and I am very proud of her.

She also looks better than anyone else in our whole family at any age. I pray for her that her 84th years is way better than her 83rd year because no one could continue to handle all that she has in this small a time frame. I also have to thank my sister Janet who has been my mother’s rock. Everyone needs a “Janet” as their child.

So happy birthday to my beautiful mother. This is going to be your year.


Jeopardy Addiction

My addiction to long term winners on Jeopardy continues. Earlier in the year it was Matt Amodio. Matt won 38 games and $1.5 million dollars. Tonight, in the same TV season, Amy Schneider beat Matt’s game record, but has not caught up to him in dollars. So far she has won $1.3M and is still in the game. She is just behind greatest winning streak holder Ken Jennings at 74 games.

When you consider that they film five jeopardy shows in one day, these long streaks are absolutely incredible. Yes, there is some advantage to being comfortable with the buzzer, but that kind of stamina and knowledge is undeniable.

The streak scenario has got to be the best things for ratings ever. Every night I make sure not to miss it just because I want to see how Amy does. I am not sure when the tournament of Champions is going to be this year, but the fact that the number two and number three streak holders of all time, Amy and Matt are going to be in it together means that it is going to be appointment TV. When I went to Kinston last week I had to figure out when Jeopardy was on there just so I could keep following Amy in real time.

No matter how many right answers I can scream at the TV I could never come close to winning Jeopardy even once, unless the categories were, Cooking, obscure Mah Jongg Rules, episodes on Downton Abbey, I love Lucy facts, easy math, North Carolina geography and needlepoint stitches. You don’t have to be good at jeopardy to appreciate the super stars. I would love it if Amy could catch Ken Jennings record. That would be exciting.


Pressure Needlepoint

For a handful of years I have been in a needlepoint group, in which we each secretly pick a name of another member and stitch them a Christmas ornament. When I was first invited into the group it was terribly intimidating because it was full of much more experienced stitchers than myself. A couple of years ago I was invited into a newly forming group, who gets together to stitch and in that group I was the elder stitcher. We too decided to pick names and secretly stitch for each other. Now every January I start thinking about what I am going to do for the dear friends, whose names I drew from the hat.

At first, I was happy to stitch a canvas that was painted by a professional. I added decorative stitches and personal bits to each one. Then I felt like I needed to up my game. So this year, with each friend in mind I am designing and creating my own canvases. One person I have stitched for in the past so I wanted to do something really different. I came up with a plan. I sketched it out on graph paper, but rather than paint it on the canvas, I needlepointed it free hand. It took me two weeks, but thanks to the snow weekend I was able to finish it today. I am so excited to give it to this friend I am not sure how I am going to wait until December to do it.

The good news is I am fairly certain it will have plenty of time to come back from the finisher. Now I am about to start on my second self-designed canvas for my second friend. It is something I have designed that I would also like to stitch for myself so I am going to have to put it more precisely on graph paper so I can recreate it. Making original ornaments for people who really love needlepoint is so much more fun than stitching something they could have bought for themselves. Oh the pressure. I am glad I am doing them in advance so I can sleep well the rest of the year.

No photos in this blog because I can’t let my person see what I have stitched.


Animal Activity Evidence

The snow finally came overnight. It wasn’t deep, but enough accumulated that we could clearly see tracks from “wild “ animals that visit our front door. Russ looked out this morning and saw bunny tracks, which were no surprise as we have many bunnies. Then he saw this strange track of one small track mark in a straight line coming toward the house, but when it got to the front step in changed to two side by side. The spacing made it seem much to small to be a deer, which is our most regularly visited animal. I looked up track marks online and could not figure it out.

Eventually Shay put on her Barbour jacket and went out with Russ to sniff around, but the snow on the walkway had already started to melt. Quite frankly, Shay really could care less about other animals, let alone be able to track anything, unless it is a steak.

I just wonder why animals are coming to our door? It’s not like we hand out animal candy like Halloween. Has Shay made some friends we don’t know about? You just never know what these kids are up to when you are not looking.

If you know what the straight line track maker is, drop me a line.


No Actual Snow, Snow Day Baking

Our friend Warren in Maine introduced us to Anadama bread. It is an old New England bread made with corn meal, molasses and flour. I have never tried to make it, but since everything was canceled today due to snow that didn’t come until after dark I decided it was a good day to try and make it. I also had some deep cleaning to do after the painting so baking bread and serious dusting go perfectly together. When you are tired of dusting you can do a little kneading.

I read a bunch of recipes about how to make this bread. They were divided between ones that wanted you to mix corn meal with hot water and letting it sit, some as long as over night, and those that said you could just mix it together with hot water and let it sit as long as it takes to cool.

I went the second route since I wasn’t looking for a two day project.

His is the recipe as I adjusted it due to what I had on hand. I have to say it was very successful and will be baking it again.

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup molasses, dark

1 cup boiling water

1/4 cup dry powdered buttermilk, (or regular powdered milk)

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

Put the cornmeal, salt, butter and molasses in the bowl of a stand mixer, off the mixer. Pour the boiling water over it and stir until the butter is melted. Let it cool for 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl put the flours, the dry milk and the yeast. When the corn meal bowl has cooled mix in the flour bowl’s contents. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Put the bowl in the mixer with the dough hook on. Knead the Dough for ten minutes on medium. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rise in a draft free place for an hour.

Take the dough out and roll it into a log that fits in your loaf pan. Cover again and let rise two hours.

Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 35 minutes to internal temp of 190°.

Let cool ten minutes in the pan, then turn it out onto a rack. It will slice better once it is cooled, but good like not cutting a slice to taste it before it cools.


Surprise!

I finished up my Kinston stint, with a bunch of new friends. I will be going back in a few months for follow up classes since I like these people so much. While I was away I left Russ home with the painters. This was not my plan, but it was how it worked out. These days you just can’t say to your painters, “This week isn’t convenient for me. Can you come back next week?” You take all workmen when they are available because you might have to wait months to get them back.

I came home to the surprise of seeing the colors I had picked with just small patches on the walls to being full blown walls of color. That is how painting works, but if I were home and didn’t like the color as they got one wall done I could stop them right there and run get another color.

I know the entry was going to be neutral, after removing red wall paper. That was fine. I will adjust to it. Since it flows into the upstairs and down stairs halls and they need to be neutral so overall the flow works fine.

The best change was the yellow living room into a green living room. Greens are incredibly hard colors to pick. They can either be too blue, too yellow, or too muddy. Russ had already told me he loved the green so I was hopeful it would be good. Well, I loved it too. Now it is time to recover the furniture. I know I should have done the furniture first and the paint last since you can paint any color and fabrics only come it certain colors, but I am so happy I have this color to work off of. The best thing is how great my mother’s painting look against this green.

The big surprise was the dining room color. I am not sure how I feel about it or if I am just reacting to not having curtains. I have glazed gold windows and below the chair rail which I love and want to keep. I like the way the tall case clock and the sideboard looks against the blue. I am going to have to live with this a little while and see if I just need valances or if I need to repaint. So many decisions.


The Joyous Students

Another fun day in Kinston spreading the love and joy of Mah Jongg. I don’t care how old or young you are, winning a game you just learned how to play brings the winner so much joy, as evidence of the photos of the winners today. What is not captured in the photos is the cheering from the winner’s opponents. So nice when people are naturally good sports and are genuinely happy when others win.

Yes, there is some luck in who wins, but as I tell my students, “You all have the same amount of luck.” I am having a wonderful time teaching this really nice group of women. I am sorry if I did not get a photo of all the winners, but there is always tomorrow.


My Full Work Week

It has been a lot of years since I had a job that had both a full work week that included travel for work. Yesterday I had a full day of teaching Mah Jongg in Raleigh. I drove home and packed for my three day work trip to Kinston to do it all again.

Right now I am having dejà vu from my old OPEX days being a traveling sales person. I woke up at 6:00 and drove down east two hours to Kinston. I arrived at the Kinston Country club to be greeted in the parking lot by one of my former students who was taking my class again. Unfortunately all the students didn’t make it for one reason or another. So I had a smaller morning class and a big afternoon class.

Turns out I know more people in Kinston than I knew. Four of my students had taken class from me at the beach and a fifth is coming tomorrow. The great thing is they really are the nicest people. Since I am teaching threes days in a row I am spending the night here. True to my first job traveling all over the east coast, I checked into what was once a Holiday Inn, but is now a cool mid century motel. I think I am one of two guests. My room looks out on the kidney shaped pool, putt-putt course and shuffle board. Too bad it’s too cold to enjoy any of those fabulous amenities.

Kinston is the home to the wonderful Chef and the Farmer restaurant. Apparently it is not open on Tuesday so I am going to try and get dinner there tomorrow. As I was searching for my dinner (Which turned out to be a chick-fil-a salad) I stopped in a gas station to fill up. I thought I would go ahead and get a bottled iced tea for the morning. I went inside the store only to discover I really in the deep south now. The only bottled tea came in Sweet tea and lemon sweet tea and a tea I have never seen anywhere, SUPER SWEET TEA. So I guess Unsweet tea is out of the question. That’s how I ended up getting dinner from Chick-fil-a. They were the only reliable unsweet tea I knew I could get.

After two more days in Kinston I go back to teach in Raleigh on Friday. It will be a week with lots of travel and work five full days in a row. The only good part is I am not selling Mail opening machines, but am Teaching my favorite subject.


Need Curtains?

Part of the great refresh is the removal of my dining room curtains. Changing colors so I can’t use these beautiful curtains is hard since they are so perfectly made of Colfax and Fowler fabric. I am hoping that someone with French doors or big windows wants them.

The valances are built on boards and come with all the hardware. One is 142inches long and the second one is 103 inches. They are lined in red. They come with two panels each. The panels are 46 inches wide and 100 inches long each. They are lined in white and have the hardware. They all can be cut down to fit smaller windows.

Maria Von Trap would have a hey day with all this material. I am certain that all seven children and one Nancy could have jumpers and shorts from these things.

I have listed these on Facebook market place, but I can’t ship them anywhere because the valances are on boards that are too long to ship.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested. I hate to just throw such beautiful fabric away.


Lazy Sleet Day

It is a good thing we don’t live some place that gets more snow. Today was predicted to be our big snow day. Big around here means any snow. Not exactly what we got. First some flurries early in the morning. Followed by some sleeting, then some freezing rain and rain. It did not get warm enough to wash everything away, just enough to be annoying and make me stay inside all day.

So with the excuse that church was on Zoom and that the house was kind of torn up by the painters I ended up spending the whole day in our bed room, in my soft clothes, but not my night gown, and needlepointed all day. Well, I also binged a few shows while needlepointing.

To make myself feel better I did do a deep cleaning of an antique table that needed old wax removed, but other than that basically just needlepointing. In my defense it was free hand needlepoint on a blank canvas where I am designing something myself. That involves some putting stitches in and taking stitches out. Still a very lazy day. I didn’t even cook anything, just reheated leftovers.

If we had more snow days I would be the least productive person on earth. I hope you all stayed in, stayed warm and enjoyed your day.


Refreshing

I don’t know if this is a standard thing, if I learned it some where, or made it up, but I think you need to redo your interior about every 20 years. If you move it happens naturally, but if you stay in your house forever, like us, then you need to look around and say, “Is this room getting tired or outdated?” When Russ and I bought our house in 1994 we didn’t do much to it right away. He was in business school and we knew were were going to put an addition on so we waited for that to paint and decorate the whole house at once two years later.

The problem with doing it all at the same time is not only is it expensive, it means it all needs to be redone at the same time. Well, that did not happen at our house, especially with a child in college. So before Carter went to college I redid the gathering room and then breakfast room. While she was in college I redid the kitchen. And now that she is out of college I am redoing the entry, all the hallways, living room and dining room.

Redoing is not really the right word. Basically I am painting, and recovering. I did get new window treatments for the Iiving room a couple years ago and a new rug last summer so those are staying. The big thing is I want to do some dramatic color changes

The wall paper that is going

I have been contemplating getting rid of my red wallpaper in my entry for a while, but was unsure which direction in color to go. Then I got a bold Idea for the living room color and an even bolder one for the dining room. So I settled on painting the entry the same color as my big room, which is buff color, or not too much color at all, but warm.

The same view after the priming. The shadows from the chandelier are much more prominent without the wallpaper

With the color ideas made I called my painters thinking I needed to get on their radar so they could work me in. That was Thursday. Daniel came by Friday morning. My timing was perfect. They had a big new house that was supposed to be all finished and ready for painting, but of course it is backed up a little. He could start today! Today, Saturday. So I ran to the Ben Moore store and got samples.

Early this morning Daniel, his brother and cousin came in to strip wall paper and prime. Then they put up the color samples. The first dining room one was a definite no. On no, what if this bold idea is a bad one. Second sample, good. Sat and watched paint dry and it was a definite yes.

The color in the living room went the same way. First color, NO! Second color, better, third color just right. Then they painted the two colors side by side just to make sure the flow from one room to the next would not be jarring. They went together well. So here we are in the middle of painting. Poor Russ thought he was going to have a nice quiet long weekend. He was already sad that I am going to be teaching all day Monday and now he will be home alone with the painters. Somehow I am getting out of living with this since I will be away all week teaching. I pray I like it all when I get home.


Shay’s Killing Fields

Santa brought Shay 19 new squeaker toys for Christmas. “Thank goodness,” Shay thought, “I’m all out of toys with squeakers still in them.” Not that having a squeaker is a requirement for a dog toy, but Shay has a special talent for cutting through just enough of a seam to extract the small plastic bubble.

Every night, before Russ is close to finishing his dinner Shay starts bugging him to come into the sun room and play with her and all her toys. Poor Russ, being a too kind dog Daddy, always leaves his plate half finished to accommodate his great love. He lies on the floor and throws her toys from her basket. She jumps in the air and either catches them or bats them back at him with her nose.

Well, true to her one squeakier a day rule, Shay has officially finished her removal of all her Christmas toys. Now, as her toys lay strewn across the sun room floor she looks longingly to Russ asking for another 19 toys. Sadly she will have to wait until a dog toy holiday. Russ thinks that Martin Luther King’s birthday is absolutely a qualifying holiday. Spoiled? Damn right.


Best At Home Men’s Shopping Ever

The best relationship Russ got out of business school was the one with his custom clothing salesman Rob Butler. Russ bought his first couple of custom suits from Rob who brilliantly advertised at the business school. As a very tall man Russ has trouble buying off the rack. Rob was the answer. Who knew that 26 years later Rob would still be the very best source of perfectly fitting beautiful clothes for Russ.

As work life has changed Russ no longer needs suits, but beautiful shirts are more important than ever since that is all anyone sees on Zoom. The customer shirts Russ has gotten from Rob have always been his favorites. Rob’s lines have the most sumptuous fabrics and being able to chose the collar styles, if you want pockets or monograms, button color and now even the thread color that holds the buttons on makes each shirt a work of art. That is all before you get a fit that is tailored made. Russ has such long arms but not very big wrists so a custom made shirt makes a world of difference on him.

The best part is the speed of shopping. Rob showed up today at our house, like he always has, right on time, and Russ had picked out his new clothes and was remeasured and done in half an hour.

The new item Russ is trying out is some custom made five pocket pants made out of gabardine. Since most places don’t sell pants long enough for Russ, Rob’s offerings are a godsend. I can’t wait to see how these turn out, with contrasting stitching and rivets like jeans, but a big step up.

Now that Russ has been remeasured I can do some secret shopping for gifts in the future. I am not sure if Russ would ever have anything other than shorts to wear if it weren’t for Rob Butler. Thank goodness for that first meeting in business school. This 26 year long relationship is one I am so thankful for, especially since Russ’s favorite pink shirt he got from Rob ten years ago just got a hole in it at the collar. In five weeks Russ will have a new one, but this one will be fitted a little more because styles have changed and Russ is so stylish, thanks to Rob.


My Pandemic Zeal to Clean is Gone

As the second anniversary of the pandemic is a mere two months away I realized that I have lost my zeal for Pandemic cleaning. That first month, when we were all locked at home and it was still cold so I was staying inside, I took on the task to deep clean and clean out things in my house that needed it. My bathrooms had never been so sparkly. Using a straight edge razor I removed all the clear caulking on the glass wall of the shower and replaced it with a perfectly applied clear bead. Every inch of grout was deep cleaned to a blinding white.

Drawers were cleaned out, and vacuumed before being reorganized. Places were dusted that had not seen the light of day since their original placement, like behind the TV in the linen press in our bedroom. It felt productive and satisfying to clean everything so throughly when we had no control on what was going on in the bigger world outside our doors.

Well, the satisfaction of cleaning my own house has certainly worn off. Today I noticed that the glass in the shower needed to be cleaned. Rather than making up a batch of homemade glass cleaner and scouring the glass with a microfiber rag twice, I just sprayed some store bought cleaner and squeegeed it off. Rather than inspecting it with the eye of a drill Sargent I just walked away. Tonight when I came back in the room I noticed what a half assed job I had done. No surprise. I know what it really takes to clean soap scum from glass, but I didn’t even attempt to do the job right.

I guess the only good thing about the pandemic, the zeal to clean like I’ve never cleaned before, has gone. This is especially disturbing to me since I look around and see so many things that need the deep cleaning treatment. I have to say that I am impressed that the original pandemic thoroughness lasted almost two years with lots of regular weekly cleaning. But now I can’t not see cobwebs on the stringers of chairs we don’t use or dust on light bulbs in chandeliers.

Now that I see all that I need to get working on it, but now I am busy and don’t have whole idle days to fill with something useful. It’s time to come up with some system that tricks me into deep cleaning again. Back in the old days when Russ wanted me to clean off the kitchen counters he would say, “I think we should have some people over for dinner.” Russ never really wanted people to come over, he just knew if we were having people over then I would clean off the counters.

It’s so sad that I am missing those early pandemic days. Maybe what I really am missing is that uber clean and organized house. Saddest thing is that no one ever saw my house that clean and I guess they never will.


Tell The Truth

I know the supply chain is broken. I know getting workers is hard. I know that Covid has cut down on how many workers are showing up to work. I try and be understanding. So when I ordered some fabric from one of my regular online places I shop at I took note when it said, “all orders are taking an average of 5-8 days to ship.” I got it.

As the days passed from the day I ordered I would check the status of my order… unfulfilled. It was one item that didn’t need cutting and one that had to be cut. It was a big order in terms of dollars, but not in terms of work for them. Unfulfilled. Yes, I am unfulfilled. I need my fabric.

Today, was day eight from the day I ordered at 9:50 in the morning. Unfulfilled. You have to be kidding me. Not even “in processing”. Unfulfilled means, “We aren’t even thinking about it.” It’s not even close to “label created for shipping,” or “awaiting pick up,” let alone “shipped” at which point it is at the mercy of the the GD FedEx Ship Point, or Smart Post or whatever crappy shipping that Fed Ex has become.

So, tired of being unfulfilled on day 8 I did the chat option with Kristin in customer service. Well, those 5-8 days (as advertised,) Kristin said were 5-8 business days. NOT THE SAME THING! Come on people. Say that on the View Cart page. Don’t bait and switch.

Kristin did say that my items were in stock so maybe give them until the end of the week or early next week to ship it. “But don’t quote me on that.” Kristin, Honey, you are an online Chat customer service rep, you wrote that, it’s in writing. Not only do I have a picture of it, you can’t hide that you said it. The beginning of next week will be 13-15 days (actual days, like you had on the view cart sales page) since I placed the order. That is more than double what the expectation for shipping is.

No Kristin, I’m not outing where you work, or are going to call the company and complain. I canceled the order. I drove to a store and bought what I needed. I am never going to order from your very large business where I have spent thousands of dollars ever again. I know that times are tough right now, but you never should have lied at the ordering point that it was 5-8 days. You should have said there and then that it was five to eight BUSINESS day, then maybe I would not have been so mad when you actually took 10-12 BUSINESS days. But you knew that I mostly likely would not have ordered from you at all if you told me the truth at the ordering point because 12 days to process and seven days for mailing was never going to work for me. I could have woven the fabric faster myself.

Thank goodness that some local retail Mom and Pop shops still exist. They may have the last laugh.


Just Keep Learning

It’s back to teaching Mah Jongg for me. Having had Covid in December makes it not that dangerous for me so I am happy to do it. Today I had 24 new students in two classes and tomorrow I have another 12. Next week I add two more classes adding 24 more new students. Fifty-six new learners in the month makes me very happy.

I find that the people who take classes and learn new things regularly are the smartest. They don’t necessarily start out as the smartest, but constantly exercising their mind in new and different ways helps.

At the end of some classes I taught, when I already knew who the best students were, I asked people when the last time had taken a class of learned a new skill. Not surprisingly the top students were constant learners, it didn’t seem to matter what they were learning. The best students had recently learned everything from Pickle Ball to coding.

It did not seem to matter if they were learning things taught in classes, like Mah Jongg, or self taught like learning new needlepoint stitches from a book. It also didn’t matter if they were learning physical or mental things.

If you haven’t set a goal for the new year, try picking a number of new things you would like to learn. It could be as simple as learning to bake bread or as complicated as learning a foreign language. You can find how to learn about anything on You Tube. My favorite thing learned there was how to fix my own dishwasher when the repair man said it would be three weeks before he could get there.

My attitude about learning new things is if others can do then why can’t I. Like when I taught myself how to build a retaining wall. Learning how was not the hardest part, but lifting all those blocks was the killer part. What do you want to learn how to do? Your brain will thank you.


Emergency Provisioning

Last week one of the most horrific travel incidents happened around Fredericksburg, VA. Thanks to a freakishly fast drop in temperature the rainy, wet I-95 highway turned to an impassible sheet of ice and then quickly a snow covered mess. The travelers on that road and apparently the surrounding roads got stuck on the highway for 27 hours.

For anyone who has had the displeasure of driving between Richmond and Washington DC, that stretch of road is over crowded on the least crowded day. Add weather and those people were in a word, “screwed.” I have no idea how that disaster could have been prevented, but I am taking some lessons from the incident seriously.

In my many years of driving I have heard that we should have an emergency kit in our car. A quick look on Amazon and you will find many choices that include things like jumper cables, those little hammers to break windows, glow sticks, which I think are modern day flares. I have never carried any of those things in my car and on that day on I-95 they wouldn’t have done anyone any good. But other things in the kit like thermal blankets and gloves might have been helpful.

I pray that no one ever has to go through that kind of hell again, but hellish situations seem to happen much more often, like 500 year floods that occur every other year. I am no longer going to go on road trips without my own emergency kit. The first thing is I am going to make sure I always have a jug of water and some substantial snacks. Of course these snacks will have to be in the trunk so I don’t eat them unless there is an emergency. My sister gave me a solar charger, so that went right in the car. I also think I need to plan my gas/ potty beaks to be more often so at no time on a trip do I have less that 2/3’s of a tank of gas. Think of those poor people for 27 hours who ran out of gas.

Now comes the big things I think I need to take with me. First is a tent, not for sleeping in, but for the porta-potty I need to bring. If I have a gallon of water I most certainly and going to need a bathroom. Then there are the non-digital entertainment items, like books, both to read and to color in, with a cache of colored pencils. Needlepoint is always a good option that I usually have with me anyway. Then I think it would be nice to have real snuggly blankets and pillows, and that is for winter. If I were stopped in the summer I am sure I would like some kind of solar powered fan. Perhaps an eye mask so I could block out any light while I napped.

As I think about all these things I need for a road trip I realize I would have no room for my regular trip suitcase, let alone any other passengers. I think what I really need is a camper van. If I had a house on wheels being stopped for a period of time would not be a terrible inconvenience. At least I could cook and maybe I would have power to watch TV.

All this emergency planning makes staying home seem like the best thing to do. At least I should try and plan how not to drive on I-95 between Richmond and Washington.


Dreaming of Maine Summer

My Sista J is a really good gift giver. Due to our active Covid cases we had to cancel our Christmas Day together. My Mom just brought us boxes and boxes of gifts from my sister and my Mom. I told Janet not to bother wrapping as that is always the bain of her existence. She took me seriously and I opened a huge cardboard box full of many random and unrelated items, from gardening equipment to Mah Jongg gear. The best things were two actual books about Maine Travel.

Janet is a great listener and when she heard we were going to be in Maine for a month she took note. I would never buy travel books for myself since I just do research on the internet. On this, the coldest day of the season so far it was so much fun to read through these books to discover places I never knew about in Maine, but would love to visit.

The problem with the internet is I forget to take notes about what I discovered months in advance. Having the books it was easy to highlight and tab things. So far I have picked out about 15 museums we have never been too, 42 restaurants, 19 hiking trails, 22 light houses, 4 boat trips, and dozens of cute towns to visit.

Russ is probably going to have to limit the days we are going to go exploring or we won’t have the relaxing, reading and writing vacation we are planning. Our biggest limiting factor will be Shay since she is going with us. Either I have to find places she can go with us, like all the hiking trails, and outdoor restaurants, or we are going to have to not go so far from home.

I wonder if it’s too late to train her to be a service dog? She could never pull off acting indifferent to people around her. Maybe I will have to find a dog sitter. I hope I live long enough for America to become like England and just let you bring your dog everywhere.

One thing I should have asked for Christmas was a good car dog restraint system. I would love any recommendations on non-crate Dog car travel systems people have used. Shay notoriously likes to sit in someone’s lap and that is not safe. I need a restraint to keep her in the back seat that is safe for her. There are a lot of things out there, but I don’t know which one is best. So much to plan for I can hardly wait.


My Favorite Sidney Poitier Movie

When I was a kid I loved to watch old movies on the weekends. In Connecticut we had the luxury of having three channels, 5, 9 and 11 which were not network channels so they played reruns, like “I love Lucy” and “Green Acres” and lots of old movies. One of my favorites was “To Sir, with Love” staring Sidney Poitier. I first saw in when I was in Junior high school and I was enamored and afraid of the tough British high school students all at the same time. Watching Sidney Poitier win over the students who had little respect for a black man was the ultimate good over evil, but with a big heart. When Lulu sang the title song I would sob. All those adolescent hormones would come pouring out watching that movie.

When I learned of Mr. Poitier’s passing on the news I kept hearing about his staring roles in “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” Or “The heat of the night,” great movies, but they did not hold a place in my childhood like “To sir, with love.”

I don’t think I have rewatched that movie since I left living on Ridgefield Rd. with all those independent TV channels. I am going to have to search it out and watch it now. Farewell to Sidney Poitier. He was a class act.


The Blessing of Omicron

As Covid rips through the country I am thankful to have gotten Omicron behind me. The official Covid counts are outrageous and I guess they probably only reflect about a third of the actual cases. I know so many people who have gotten it and only done an at home test without reporting it to anyone official. Then there are the a-systematic cases. My mother told me of people near her who think they just have the flu, who don’t want to know the truth. There just has not been that much flu around so far, so the chances are they have Covid, but don’t want to quarantine.

For all of us boosted, Non-immune compromised, relatively healthy people getting this version of Covid is not a death sentence. If enough of us get it all at the same time we might be able to starve the virus out of hosts so we can greatly reduce it. The trick is to keep it from those people who are immune compromised. Of course all those non-vaxed idiots are still at real risk and are selfishly not doing anything to protect others.

Even though Omicron is not as bad for the boosted, the non-vaxed are still dying. Yesterday over 1600 people in just the states that report. Lord knows how many more there are since some states, Florida I’m looking at you, don’t like letting their citizens know the truth about how many deaths are happening everyday. I guess that deaths will go up a lot in the next four weeks as the death rate lags the infection rate.

In France Macron has really given up on the anti-vaccine crowd and gave ‘em hell yesterday. He is trying to make it next to impossible for the Non-vaxed to go in public places like restaurants. Hooray for him. Why should the rest of us have to stay locked away.

I figure that I might have a couple of months of extra protection now that I am fully boosted and have some home grown anti-bodies from having had a break through infection. That does not mean I will go anywhere without my mask or will go anyplace really crowded. I did everything possible not to get this, except for not hugging my child when she got home for Christmas. This variant is everywhere. I am thankful that the vaccine did it’s job and lessened the effect.


Working Ahead and Behind

I am still working on a Christmas present for my sister. Thanks to Covid our Christmas plans to be together were scrapped, giving me an extra month to finish her present. At the rate I am going I will be lucky if I finish it in that time. I won’t say what it is or show a photo because I still want it to be a surprise, but it is taking up all my time right now, not giving much time to do anything else that I could blog about.

Today I took a little break from working on that present to go and get supplies for my next year needlepoint gifts for my two needlepoint exchanges. I am designing my own ornaments for those friends so I really just needed blank canvas, but while I was there and Chapel Hill Needlepoint was having her annual 25% off sale I treated myself to more canvases than I really need. But need is never the right word when describing needlepoint.

I want to go ahead and get my exchange ornaments done as soon as I finish my sister’s gift so that I won’t have to worry about getting them finished in time for Christmas. You think I am crazy, but with Pandemic living needlepoint finishers have more work than they can handle. I tried to finish an ornament myself and it was a horrible mess. I know where my skill lie.

In the last few years I did a good job of working down my needlepoint stash, but I am afraid with my haul today I am back up to an unreasonable amount. I need to stitch almost as much as I did the year I finished 63 ornaments.

I must admit I hate working behind and much more prefer to be done with things way in advance. That means I need to start inventing what other gifts I can make for my family for Christmas now. It’s not the making that is hard, but the inventing what to make. I need something that is fast if I am going to do all this needlepoint for myself.


Surprise Kindness

Russ brought in the normal pile of holiday mail yesterday. Some Christmas cards, a New Years Card, giant post card advertisements for Gyms, junk “magazines” we don’t subscribe to, appointment reminders. Amongst the larger than usual pile was a small hand written envelope that looked more like a thank you note than a Christmas card. After discarding the obvious junk I began to open the large cards, enjoying the photos of friends from afar. The last thing I opened was the little envelope. I recognized the name on the return address as my Aunt’s best childhood friend, Townes, perhaps it was a Christmas card.

After undoing the flap the first thing I noticed inside was the corner of a large folded check, which I pulled from the envelope along with a card. There is nothing better than seeing a check in an envelope, especially one I was not expecting.

I unfolded the check first, wondering what in the world Townes would be sending me a check for. As I opened it up I looked first at the amount. It was a big. Then I read the payee, my church. In the memo was written “In memory of Ed Carter, Dana Lange’s father.” I burst into tears, rendering me unable to read the card.

Back in October, when I was writing my father’s obituary I asked my mother if there was a charity we might designate for memorial gifts. My mother said that there was no place she felt my father was close enough to. To my father his children were his charities. I remember once when my parent’s received an annual report for Carter’s school, where they had once donated a small amount, my father read the report and discovered how much Russ and I had given to the school. He called me right up and said, “Why the hell have you given that school so much money, you weren’t raised that way.” I laughed because he was the most generous person I knew, having given many people money they needed when they were down and out.

Townes has been a constant in my mother’s family for as long as she and my Aunt have been alive. I remember when I was an adolescent going to spend a weekend with her in her New York City Apartment. She was like my own personal “That Girl” as she was only a little more than a decade older than me. She was well traveled and glamorous and was so kind to invite me for a girls weekend in the city.

Eventually I pulled myself together to read her sweet card. Telling me how much she loved my father from the second she met him at my grand parent’s house in Knoxville when my parents were just engaged. The card would have been enough without the check, but the check was a surprise kindness that meant so much to me. Townes reads my blog and knows how important my church is to me. Her gesture is one I will never forget and an example I hope I will remember to follow.


What Are You Saving It For?

When I was a kid we were never allowed to eat the Triscuits. They were for company. Now it did not matter if no company was planning on coming. My parents said, you needed to have Triscuits just in case someone stopped by for a drink. In defense of my parents people did drink a lot back then and it was probably a good idea to offer them something to eat before they drove them selves home. Who ever heard of a designated driver in 1972?

We could have an opened box of Triscuits and we were still not allowed to eat them. So the opened box would languish in the cabinet. Then if a friend dropped by at cocktail hour my Dad would have us test one of the broken pieces to see if it was stale. It almost always was. In all honesty I have never liked Triscuits, but always wanted what was forbidden.

So the precious half box of Triscuits would get thrown away and a new box, perhaps Carr wafers, was opened. We weren’t allowed to eat those either.

This habit of saving something good for a “special” occasion has stayed with me too, just not to the extent as my parents. If someone in our house wants to eat something that is opened I am all for it, but I am not going to open it for myself.

After moving my parents out of two of their houses this year I found lots of “speical” things that had to be thrown away because no one good enough ever came by to warrant using them. So I decided that I am going to change my family bad habits and start enjoying the good stuff whenever I want and not just for company. Lord, we don’t have company anymore with Covid anyway.

My friend Karen has given me the best Kusmi tea for Christmas for the last few years. I usually have not justified making a cup for myself, instead opting for regular ‘ole Liptons, but that is changing, Today, after the first winter storm of the season had passed, I decided I would like a cup of summertime tea.

With no fanfare, or friend to join me, I brewed up a cup and enjoyed it is the sunroom just because I have it, no saving for a special occasion. I am going to have one whenever I want, as long as it lasts. Hopefully I will use it all up before next Christmas when I might be lucky enough to get some more, or not. Doesn’t matter I should enjoy it now.


No Narcissists Allowed

Recently I’ve heard stories from friends complaining about Narcissists around them. These toxic people are not necessarily family members but people who call themselves friends or just acquaintances. The stories are of hurtful comments made to my friends by the offenders, who seem to go blithely about their business after delivering a zinger or two.

I’ve had experience with these types of people before. Thankfully one took herself out of my life after I pushed back. Another I just blocked from being able to communicate with me, which is easier than you think. The outcome from both of those removals was a much more pleasant daily life. There was no worry about what the next comment was going to be or who the person might offend next. I never missed having to clean up the mess left in that person’s wake as they went about insulting people.

As a person born in the south, but raised in the north, only to return south in adulthood I have experienced the different ways people handle Narcissists. In the north, they don’t get far as people are more willing to call them out. In the south, female narcissists can last a long while, because most true southerners don’t want to make waves or are afraid of becoming a victim of the bully.

If you have anyone in your life who belittles you in anyway now is the time to cut them out of your life. It’s not that hard because most true narcissists won’t notice if you don’t speak with them, or avoid them, or block them from your social media. When the world revolves around them, what you do is not on their radar, nor do they really care.

So no reason to include them anymore thinking that will make said person be nicer to you, it won’t. They can’t change, nor do they think anything they say or do to others is ever wrong. Narcissists never apologize. They are kind of like the subject of the Carley Simon song, “You’re so vain,” they think everything is about them. I’m here to tell you life without toxic people is so nice.


Tip-Toeing into 2022

In most of my sixty years I have welcomed the New Year with excitement and anticipation, made resolutions and plans and declared it would be the best year ever. See, I am an optimist who looks for constant improvement. Now improvement is not always realized. I recognize that I have years where I would slide backwards, sometimes at a breakneck speed, but that never kept me from declaring that the new year would be better.

The last few years have tempered me, but last year starting with the insurrection, working the move of my parents from two giant places to one smaller one, the passing of my father and just to put a bow on it, the canceling of our Christmas as we all had Covid made it particularly bad year. Not everything was bad. Carter graduated from college in a stellar way and made an excellent pivot from Bain Capital to get an offer doing something more suited to her skills. But in the balance it was not my favorite year.

I am tip toeing into 2022 with no great declarations. I just don’t want to jinx things. I have projects, but am going to take everything one day at a time. I have stopped looking at the Secret Escapes emails heralding fabulous deals on exotic vacations. There is no dreaming about going on a photo safari with Carter until things really settle down.

Instead I am going on more like the turtle than the hare. Plodding away and chipping at bad habits rather than making big resolutions. I don’t want to get my hopes up just to have them dashed. So instead I will try and take stock of all the beautiful small wins going on around me. This does not mean I am allowing myself to be less productive, just taking smaller steps on the same journey.

The thing that scares me is 2022 could be read as, 2020 Too and I definitely don’t want that. So I’m keeping my head down and not making a big deal about the change of the year. Maybe no one will notice and things can just slowly get better a wee bit at a time.


Tatum and Amos Get Married At Last

Our friends Sara and Dave’s oldest daughter Tatum married her sweet heart Amos today. It was a long time coming. I think they originally planned on being engaged under two years. It takes almost that long to plan a wedding these days. New Year’s Eve 2020 was the original wedding date. Then Covid intervened. Last year at this time we didn’t have vaccines. So they postponed the wedding exactly a year.

Things were looking good this summer. Tatum and Amos were going to have the wedding Tatum dreamed of up until a month ago. Then a new variant. Really? There would be no postponing. After almost three years they got married tonight.

I had the pleasure of being the “church lady” who organized the groomsmen and made sure the wedding party was in the right place at the right time. It was great to spend that special time with my friends right before the whole thing took place.

Tatum and Amos made a beautiful couple. It was a perfect wedding with a good history lesson Homily by our minister Chris that included Nazi’s, but more importantly a message about making it through hard times.

We wore our masks at the reception, which had to cut down on the bar tab for the father of the bride, but it was lovely to see the smiling eyes of all involved. This was a wedding that deserved to happen at last. Best wishes to the happy couple.


Flexibility

Covid is causing us all to modify our plans on the fly. For months I have been planning to host a post wedding breakfast for our friend’s daughter’s wedding. The bride and groom canceled their planned New Year’s Eve wedding last year and pushed it back exactly a year. Now here we are again with Covid surging just as the second date is coming around. The wedding is going to take place this year, but the breakfast the next day will not be at my house.

The original plan was to have my house still be decorated for Christmas for the party. When it became obvious that we should not have people inside without their masks I went ahead and started the defrocking of our house. In the last two days I was able to take all the decorations down and box them up. Then I replaced all the regular decorations that get put away for Christmas. The only thing left is the naked, lit tree.

Carter was supposed to fly back to Boston this afternoon. Her flight has been pushed back four hours so far. It is still questionable if she will go tonight. Perhaps she will still be around in the morning to help take the tree down. Nothing will make her madder than not being able to escape putting the tree away.

The flexibility we all have to have these days is testing everyone. After almost two years in the pandemic it would be nice to be able to make plans and know with some certainty that they are going to happen. Not now. So I have totally adjusted my expectations and find myself going more with the flow than I ever have before. I have to say the pandemic has made me much more flexible, but perhaps not exactly easy going.


Did Amy Win on Jeopardy Tonight?

Tonight might be Carter’s last night home. I say might because we have no idea if her flight back to Boston might be one that is canceled tomorrow. It has been a fun two weeks having her home. Fun is relative since the three of us were holed up together with Covid. But Carter and I played a lot of games, at her request and that was a winner for me. At least we weren’t isolated. Thankfully for Carter, fewer people, rather than more, is the way to go healthy or sick.

We got to celebrate her graduation, her getting a job and Christmas all during this time. She is so excited to go back to Boston and start her next chapter. While we were soaking up these last moments home I realized I missed Jeopardy tonight. I don’t know why I don’t DVR it, but I don’t.

I am a sucker for a winning streak on Jeopardy and get totally sucked in when there is a superior player, like Amy. When I realized I had missed it I went to the Internet to find out if she won tonight. Nowhere could I find the answer. There was plenty of press about her winning twenty games in a row, but that was yesterday’s news. So now I am going to you. If you watched Jeopardy tonight can you tell me if Amy won and if she won big again?

Given the choice between spending the last night home with Carter or watching Jeopardy, I would choose Carter every time, but I still want to know the outcome.


The YouTube Calming

We haven’t had any stress during this holiday season since there have just been the three of us locked in the house. Nevertheless Russ and Carter are now watching their favorite calming ritual, Baumgartner Restorations on YouTube. If you ever have trouble sleeping and just want a soothing voice to lull you to sleep, Baumgartner is for you.

I’m not sure who discovered it first, but both Russ and Carter came to watching this YouTube show independently. It stars a second generation art restorer in Chicago painstakingly taking the viewer through the restoration of fine art paintings. If you thought watching paint dry was slow, watching the removal of dirt off old paint equals it.

I am not portraying the show for the interesting work that it is. Learning about the hard job of reversing bad restorations or just the years of grime that art can accumulate is actually very interesting. Baumgartner himself is quite an artist. He is able to emulate all other artists styles as well as recreating their original materials as he brings old works back to life.

After watching so many hours of this show, Carter and I walk through museums and pick out which painting would be greatly improved with a visit to Baumgartner Restoration.

Russ and Carter can happily cohabitate in the big room with the giant TV droning on about the use of Belgian linen to repair rips in canvas. I bet they will sleep well tonight.


Making The Best Of It

As horrible as global warming is for the whole world today there was a benefit for me personally. While it was in the high sixty’s today, yes December 27, I was able to go out work in the garden. I was just in a shirt and pants, gathering leaves from my backyard pile to spread thickly on my raised beds. The winter kales, Swiss chard and cabbage are doing nicely with no input from me. The parsley and chives have been going non-stop, and the arugula is banquet ready.

I turned and watered the compost. Trying to keep the right balance of browns and greens if difficult, but not as difficult as keeping it all moist so it can break down. We have hardly had enough rain this fall and I just forget to water it when I don’t have anything else to water.

I did some clean up in flower beds, cutting down withered lantanas and pulling out these plants that looked like something from Dr. Seuss, that I never knew the name of. It was great to spend time working in the garden after spending so many days hiding inside with Covid.

All three of us having Omicron at the same time was not that bad a way to go. At least we got to spend our time together and not be isolated. If you are boosted and not immunocompromised then you might want to go ahead and get it over with at a time that is convenient for you. I am not sure how you are going to avoid it. So stock up your pantry, and get a good book and movie list. Or just be like Russ and continue your full on Zoom work life.

If you are not vaccinated I have no idea how Omicron will hit you, but you too are going to have a hard time avoiding it, especially if you don’t wear n95 masks, as I guess you might not.

So I am looking at this day of post personal Covid and global warming as a glass half full one for me, but I would do anything to have neither of those things going on. While I was happy to get to work in the garden I was still worrying about my daffodils in the ground, not staying cold enough. There are some things I can’t do anything about.


Christmas Gift Metaphor

In August, when we were just half way through this terrible year we went to maine for a few days of vacation. It had been two years since we had been and we needed a little happy. Little did we know that the first half of the year was the good half.

On an overcast morning we went out to walk the breakwater in Rockport, my favorite walk. It is a good two mile walk in total from the car, out the giant stone walkway to the lighthouse in the middle of the harbor. You have to pay attention to your foot placement as the breakwater stones have big crevices between them.

On this particular day the fog strolled in as we walked out. When Carter got to the light house, she looked back at the shore just under a mile back and you could not make out the lush green hills of the Samoset golf course where the breakwater begins. She took this photo of the flag pole perfectly dividing the rocks of the breakwater. On the ocean side the water is rough and choppy and on the harbor side the same water is calm. The breakwater doing exactly the job it was built in the 1880’s to do, calm the waters and protect the harbor. But the photo is much more a perfect metaphor for the year. Carter enlarged the photo and framed it for me for Christmas.

We just learned of a friend’s 26 year old son passing in a car accident last week. Nothing prepares us for the loss of a bright and full of life young person. We just don’t know which side of the breakwater we are going to be on. I hope you have more days on the harbor side to buoy you up for the ones on the ocean.


Some Assembly Required

Over the years, between my childhood and my child’s childhood Christmas Day has been spent putting together one gift or toy or another or learning how to use it. Like the the big wheel for my sister Janet, where my father asked me to leave off the noise maker. The noise maker was the very first in a 38 step process. When Janet jumped on said Big Wheel and rode the length of our big barn living room she announced, “It’s broken! It doesn’t make the noise.” My father threw me under the bus, “Your sister can fix it.” Undoing 37 steps and redoing 38 and the Big Wheel clicked along the rest of it’s life. I will never get that sound out of my head.

I have assembled puppet theaters and American Doll bedroom suites. As Carter aged I thought I was finished with the learning curve of new toys. Until today. I received a Furbo, dog camera with the ability to throw your dog a treat. Russ thought this was what I needed when we take Shay away with us so we can have an idea what she is doing when she is alone.

The product is cool looking. I took the three parts out of the box, the unit, the usb cable and the plug. The instructions in eight languages were brief…”download the Furbo app to learn how to assemble and use.” How hard can it be, three parts.”

We down loaded, eventually got the unit paired with our wifi. Carter loaded a doggie treat in it. The camera worked and the microphone to talk to your dog. Shay was very interested in the treats inside. We pushed the treat button, the unit chipped, alerting Shay of the impending treat that would fly out of it. Nothing happened after the chirp. We gave Shay the treat anyway by hand.

That’s not a sticker on Russ’ hand, but the but a screen shot of the Image from the Furbo camera, with Shay in the back awaiting a flying treat.

Russ read the FAQ’s. It told us to turn the unit upside down to see if the throwing mechanism and trap door worked that way. It did. Only problem the treat can’t get to the thrower when it’s upside down. Russ went on the help chat line. Only 17 other customers in front of us. After 30 minutes help arrived. Turns out we were missing some fourth part and the unit probably never would work anyway so we should send it back. There was something to assemble.

Oh how I wished for a noise maker that I could just reattach. There is nothing I hate more than returning things. Russ said it cost too much not to return. I’m not sure we should try this again, but it was a present and I should give it another try.

I guess your days of presents that need to be put together or learned how to use are never over. For the record, puppet theaters are the easiest things to put together.


Merry Christmas to All

A friend asked if I would post photos of my needlepoint garland. It would be way too many photos to post. So instead I made this video while trying to recite “‘‘twas the night before Christmas.” I forgot a line and stuttered while trying to say it and film at the same time, but I am a one shot kind of girl. You get to see the warts and all.

I did not in anyway capture all the needlepoint but it is enough for you to get the idea. Each little ornament a treasure, whether stitched by me or by a sweet friend. Off season they live in a waterproof box under a bed in case the house catches on fire, they are the thing that gets saved first.

I hope you have a loved one or two near you on this Christmas Eve. Our table may be small tonight, but we are holding dear in our hearts all who we wish were around it with us.


Proof Christmas is coming

Everyone in our house is feeling better! So much so Russ and Carter got out the train and set it up around the Christmas tree. If you look closely you can see Carter helping Russ. They did a more complicated layout than normal, creating a train parking area.

Carter then took a little movie at train level.

After setting up the train it was time for a special Christmas drink. Russ pulled out his team building mixology kit, which he never got to do with his team thanks to client emergencies. So Carter is getting to bartend, “announcing it was the best gift ever.” And it wasn’t even really a gift.

I hope you and yours are safe this Christmas. Embrace your inner child this year. Play some games and if you have one, set up a train.


Covid-A-Rama

The last six Christmases have not been our best. Either I was sick or my father was in the hospital or the whole world was locked down. We were really looking forward to a family Christmas this year after the loss of my Dad. Well, best laid plans…all of us got Covid. We are fairly certain that we have Omnicom because it came on so fast. There is something to be said for all having it so we did not need any special quarantining in our own house. We all were in it.

Carter is over it. Her’s was short and light. I only jokingly told her to get tested after I started to feel bad. Russ and I were on the exact same schedule, but he has improved faster than me.

I am so thankful for vaccinations and boosters because our symptoms are not bad. Carter had a sore throat, which neither Russ, not I had. I had more body aches and post nasal drips. Being tired was the common symptom.

Those of us who are still positive have stayed in except for getting tested. Russ still worked his 12-16 hour Zoom days. In an abundance of causation we have canceled our Christmas Eve and Christmas plans. We let anyone we were in contact with know were had Covid and thankfully they got tested and were negative. Thanks to those people who offered to shop for us. Thankfully we had a full kitchen and could live a long time without leaving our house.

The bright side is now we all have new immunities. As soon as I get the all clear I am going to air out our house and do a top to bottom disinfection. Today I went to get a Covid test at the Lakewood site. I pulled in and there was this really long line. I sat in it in my car and after twenty minutes I realized I was in the food pantry give-a-way line. I pulled out of that line and went around the corner to the Covid line, which thankfully was much shorter. We have used the at home tests and the PCR tests and they say the same thing. Get home tests if you can because the results are faster. Probably plenty of people are just testing at home and therefore their positive results are not getting counted in the daily Covid totals. So consider that there is so much mor Covid out their than you read online.

Here are my take always from this whole experience. Omnicom is so contagious that you won’t know someone has it fast enough to stay away from them. If you are vaccinated and boosted, what you get is not so horrible. We all still had our sense of smell. We have a pulse oximeter and our oxygen levels stayed up around 95 the whole time. The vaccines make this a totally different game. Inevitably everyone is going to get it. That also means that immune compromised people need to be protected at all costs. So wear your masks and social distance . You might not know you have it, but may still be able to give it. And if you’re one of the fools who has not gotten vaccinated, well all bets are off on you.


A Game?

Since Carter has been home she has voluntarily offered to play a few games. We did Bananagrams more than once which made me very happy. My friend Mary Lloyd dropped off a Christmas game. It is a trivial pursuit like game with questions about Christmas history, movies, books and traditions.

Carter and I sat at the dinning room table as I pulled one card after another from the box. I read the first question, “What early seventies NFL Dolphin was born on Christmas Day, 1946?” Carter looked at me and asked, how do I know what the mascot’s name is? I explained the question is asking about a football player. “How is this a Christmas question?”

I was with Carter. Neither of us came up with Larry Csonka. Of course, Carter had not even heard of him.

The next question, “What does Weolych Swait mean in Poland? Oh lord. Even though we were in Prauge at Christmas four years ago we certainly did not learn any Polish. (My friend Stuart Write pointed out that Prauge is in the Czech Republic, no no wonder I don’t know any Polish.)

“What musical composition do the choir members try to perfect in A Christmas without snow?” Was that a hallmark movie? We had no idea. Never heard of that movie.

The next two questions were multiple choice, with two answers so we had a fifty-fifty chance. We still got one wrong.

The last question was about Scrooge and we missed that one.

In all I think we got one right. Carter asked me what year this game was made? I looked at the box and it had many copywrite years, starting in 1983. I looked at her and said even in 1983 I wouldn’t know these answers. We tried another card and it got a little better. We hope that some cards are more modern, but as we work through them we certainly are learning a lot, not necessarily about Christmas. But we are so appreciative of Mary Lloyd knowing how much I love a game.


No Christmas Cards From Us Again

I love that my friends keep me on their Christmas card list year after year. Since I have been writing this blog for twelve years I have given up cards. What could I possibly write in a card that any blog reader does not already know ad nauseam? Of course we get cards from friends who have no idea that I even write a blog, so for them I feel guilty. Then there are the ones who know I have a blog, but don’t read it. It’s that ad nauseam thing again.

I love reading Christmas letters. I find most are written by husbands and many ask the question, “Is this too long?” Absolutely not, I write a version of your Christmas letter 365 days a year.

I love learning about your children and now your grandchildren and of course, your dogs. I don’t even mind the letters that brag, but I especially like the funny ones.

We need Christmas letters. We need connection. I need your new addresses, even if I’m probably never going to mail you anything ever again. I say that, but maybe one day I will send out a Christmas card again. Maybe if we have grandchildren and I have given up the blog, but the chances on those two things are slim. So for today’s blog I am posting one of my favorite cards from back in the days when Russ traveled all the time so being together for Christmas was a real treat. Just keep your cards and letters coming and never ask me if your letter is too long.


The Mis-Named Lange Tradition

Even in families where cooking is not the Olympic sport it is here there are food traditions worth continuing. In Russ’ family it is the Christmas treat they call Chess Pies. Being a child of southern roots I was familiar with chess pies, but I was quickly told by my in-laws that what I knew was not these Philadelphia chess pies.

First these pies are tiny fruit and nut pies that must be topped by a candied cherry that has a four year shelf life. As I read the recipe I was happy to sit this tradition out. Russ and Carter picked it up. Today as they were making the annual pies Russ went through the ingredient list with me to see if we had the ingredients. Walnuts, check, raisins, check (although I was mistaken), eggs, check, sugar, are you kidding, check, box of pie crust mix… are you kidding me?

I told Russ we never used a box of pie crust mix in our house. He said they needed to go buy some. I convinced him we had everything they needed for a pie crust and convinced Carter to make that from scratch, which they did.

As I sat in the living room working on my puzzle laughing about the discussion about oven temperature and the worry if the pies were done or not coming from the kitchen. Without looking at them I called out, “less is better than too much.”

Russ and Carter proudly sent their photo of the finished pies to Russ’ father, “the king of chess pies.” The word came back, “You forgot a cherry.” Of course they did not, it just sank into the pie. So tonight we will taste the lange family tradition. Not a real chess pie, but a Lange chess pie.


Do Nothing

You might think that I was the college student who just came home for Christmas by the way I spent my day. I started off like any self respecting adult and got up at a reasonable hour and showered, but from there things went down hill. I watched two Netflix Christmas movies back to back while sitting by the Christmas tree, needlepointing. One was good, A Boy Called Christmas. I blame watching this on my friend Tom Spiegel who recommended it. The second one was something that probably got rejected by the Hallmark Chanel. So bad I don’t recall the name. From there I went right into the third episode of “And just like that.” I am not sure exactly where this Sex in the City sequel is going, but after the bad Christmas movie it seemed worthy of my time, little respect that I had left.

After all that needlepointing I moved right into working on a puzzle my friend Jan lent me. I don’t need to be lent any puzzles, as I have a cabinet full of ones I am yet to work. I decided this one was fine to start because it was not so big that it would be out all of Christmas. Plus it is a cool wooden one, so I didn’t have to spend half a day sorting pieces.

I sat in the living room listening to Christmas music working the puzzle. I should have been listening to my book club book, but I only thought of after after my eyes were so crossed from doing all this small work all day.

One would think I had better things to do to get ready for Christmas. I have wrapped most of my gifts. I didn’t have any laundry to do. It is too early to start cooking for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. So why not have a total slug day? My family hung with me during different parts of my activities, if you could call them that. I guess I was in solidarity with Carter in the normal “do nothing” day after exams. The only thing is I have not had any stress I need to recover from. I don’t even know how few steps I got today because I didn’t even bother to out on my watch. I think that is a first for the whole year.

I think I can honestly say this was my least productive day of the whole year and I loved it.


Best Hostess Gift

The world stopped having parties two years ago. We got out of practice giving hostess gifts. Although I am anti-gifts for most occasions for Adults I do like to show up at someone’s house with something special for them. If someone has gone to the trouble to cook for me then I like to return the favor.

I love a homemade treat to give; vinegar or vanilla extract is nice, but that is a long planned ahead item as I like my extract to sit for at least six months. Nuts are nice, especially if they have been transformed. A baked good is very thoughtful. All those things that showed you took some time.

If it’s not a homemade item, then a special consumable, like interesting mustard, or a special tea or spice. Something someone would not splurge on themselves normally or does not know about. Then there are the things that are hard to get, like a special Kringle flavor. All good hostess gifts. They don’t have to take up space forever in your house. You don’t have to try and keep them alive and you don’t have to find a vase and arrange them right as you are trying to make your guests a drink.

All these things involve planning, purchasing, and wrapping. But the very best hostess gift that my friend Anne has taken to giving is the one I love the most, a donation to the Food Bank. She also gave our friend Lynn a donation to Reality Ministries. It is the most thoughtful because she gives to the charity that means the most to us. She can go online and make the donation so no shopping was involved. She doesn’t have to wrap anything, although she does put a note in a box telling us of the donations and then wraps the box. That part is totally unnecessary.

So next time you have to go to a friends house for dinner, skip bringing the bottle of wine they may or may not like, and make a donation to their favorite charity. I promise that it will be well received.


Home Safe

Carter is home! She was supposed to be in NYC a visiting friends, but with Covid surging, and friends getting it, she made the decision to come home for hibernation. Thanks to Suzanne who offered Carter a place to stay. Hopefully sometime in the future when all the idiots get vaccinated and we can starve the virus from willing hosts Carter will be back.

For now I’m thrilled that she is with us. Nothing better than a grown child who can do the grocery shopping and cook the dinner. She was so thrilled when I told her I would do the dishes since she cooked the dinner. Suddenly cooking and not having to clean seemed like a good deal.

The total bonus about having her home was after dinner SHE ASKED ME if I wanted to play banana grams. I almost fell out of my chair. I have spent my life begging my family to play games with me. Now she wants to play? Where was this person twenty years ago? I am really having a great Christmas now!

I am praying that this variant does not ruin Christmas. I am happy that all my people are vaccinated and boosted, but still want to keep everyone safe. Carter told me of a friend of hers who is not going home for Christmas because a cousin’s husband is not vaccinated. When this grown child asked her mother to uninvite him for Christmas her Mother said no, because she took a lot of shit for canceling Christmas last year. So now the poor girl is not going home.

It’s time to tell unvaccinated people they are not welcome anyplace. Sure it is your decision to not get the vaccine, but that does not mean we have to let you in any place with vaccinated people. We spent way too much time coddling the “undecideds.” They were decided, they had decided long ago to be contrary and not follow science. We need some scarlet letters so we know who they are. Time’s up.

Stay healthy. Merry Christmas.


Christmas Cadet Forever

I’m tired of Covid, but am still playing it somewhat safe. That being said Lynn and I had a few friends for lunch which made me feel somewhat normal. I can’t have another Christmas with a fully decorated house and no one coming by to share in the spirit. As I was taking with a friend about my love of all things Christmas I recalled how I was a Christmas Cadet at Ethel Walkers.

At boarding school there were five Christmas cadets, who spread cheer during the horrible exam-filled dark days right before leaving for Christmas break. I had a full wardrobe of red and green wide whale corduroys and turtlenecks and fairisle sweaters. I carried a red and green croquet mallet with ribbons attached and I had flashing Christmas lights I wore and plugged in during classes. It’s amazing how accommodating my teachers were.

My biggest claim to fame as a Christmas Cadet were my “count-down hours cards,” where I displayed how many hours we had left until we were released for Christmas break. I certainly should have been studying harder instead of passing out Christmas candy to my weary classmates.

Today I realized after lunch I had worn my new holiday apron through the whole thing with my Christmas green sweater and red wool sneakers. Very reminiscent of my Christmas cadet years. At least I don’t have to count anything down this year as Carter will be home tonight. I’m ready for the cheer.


Hooray for Carter

Today was officially Carter’s last day as a college student with one final exam and two papers. Although she won’t have a ceremony until May of next year, she’s done. We could not be more proud of her Northeastern Career. She packed a lot in, finishing her five year program in four and a half years. She had two study abroad programs, one in Berlin and a second in London, which thankfully she got in before the pandemic shut down all foreign study programs.

One of the strengths of Northeastern is the Co-op program where students work for six months at a real life job. Carter worked full time at Bain Capital for twenty months, including one semester where she was also going to school full time, something that only could be done because of the pandemic. Starting in her second year she worked in the Explore program on campus, which was her happy place. Explore is the program for First year students who are undecided as to what they want their major to be. Carter team taught every semester she was not on Co-op. It played on her camp counselor strengths. She loved helping first years find their path and was even happier when they applied to work in explore too because they saw how much she enjoyed it.

Thanks to Lindy Fraser at DA, Carter discovered her love for psychology and that is what she majored in at NEU. She loved being the TA in abnormal psych because she loved trying to diagnose her family. Surprisingly to her parents she also had a minor in religious studies, studying every religion, except Christianity. She was president of the Psych club and was rolled out by the Psych department when they needed a student to present to prospective students or VIPs.

She made good friends and grew in so many ways. When Carter was in lower school and the school year would come to an end she would say to me, “I don’t want to go on to the next grade. I like this one.” She said the same thing to me recently. She has loved learning for learning’s sake. She had some outstanding Professors and would take classes just because of the professor, even if the subject was not her first choice. Her intellectual curiosity expanded exponentially. The same could not be said about me when I was graduating from college, so this make me extra happy.

I know that I am a bragging mother here, but I have to document and celebrate her college career, as this blog is my memory keeping place. So great job Carter. I know you will go on to do exciting things. I don’t think this is the end of your learning or your educational experience, but for now, you get a little break before you start your new job. You could not have made your parents more proud.


Nature Where It Doesn’t Belong

Shay and I went in the sunroom yesterday to play the “catching game” where I throw Shay toys and she tries to catch them. I guess I should say that I throw Shay carcasses of toys whose squeakers and a majority of the stuffing has been removed. Seasoned cataracts Shay is fairly good at catching an avocado carcass in mid air or nose bouncing it back to me.

After tossing a baby beaver, a bottle of champagne, and an orange wedge I noticed out of the corner of my eye that some other thing bounced. Shay didn’t seem to noticed and stood at attention awaiting a dinosaur to come her way. I turned my head before throwing and saw some live animal on the window jam. I screamed a little and neither the thing, nor Shay seemed bothered. I got up from the sofa and went to inspect the live animal. It looked like some salamander or newt. I was never good at amphibian identification.

How the hell did this green thing get inside. I went to the kitchen for some Tupperware to catch it in. I was able to trap it, but when I went to move the Tupperware it was able to escape. This sucker could really jump. I trapped and lost it three times. The third time it disappeared and I was unwilling to move the heavy sofa to try and find it. So I opened a window and left the room for three hours. Shay was furious the toy throwing session was cut prematurely short.

I have no idea if the green thing found it’s was outside, or even wanted to leave the comfortable sunroom. Now I go in and scan the room before I sit down. I’m not sure how important it is to ensure it is gone. At least it is a festive color green.


Mother Nature Wins

I am so sad to watch the news of the tornados in Western Kentucky and the surrounding states. Tornados are scary anytime, but just not normal in December. The clash of warm air to cold air produces killing results.

As the poor people of Kentucky begin the grieving and cleaning up, so many others are coming to their aid. I can’t help but think about how much worse natural disasters are in the last decade than ever before. The Hurricane and tornado damage just keeps coming. Along with devastating droughts and fires.

I know there are plenty of climate change deniers out there, but I can’t help but draw a line between our worsening weather events and our warming earth. Man has certainly played a big role in the global warming. It is time that we all take seriously what we can do to slow the warming down.

We certainly can’t turn back the damage that has been done, but we must slow it down. This is not political, it is humanitarian. There is no place to hide from Mother Nature. She always wins.


Finding The Perfect Gift

With Russ away visiting his father Shay and I have been alone at home for five days. Shay has not been without Russ for this long in two years and she is continually going from room to room to find him. Shay followed me circling the house as I gathered gifts I had hidden throughout the year. Today was the perfect day to wrap.

As I wrapped the gifts I had I took stock of them. In most years I have the perfect gifts sourced well before Thanksgiving. This year I have been less than inspired. Between cleaning out all my parents homes to down size to 20% of their belongings and losing my Dad I am having trouble thinking of “stuff” people need. I lost months of being able to hand make things.

My friend Christy had given me the perfect gift this year; a pair of socks that said, “I’m not arguing, I’m explaining why I’m right.” That is the perfect gift. She said she saw them this summer and knew she had to give them to me. Why can’t I be as inspired this year?

Please, send me your ideas for gifts. I did not realize how behind the eight ball I was.


Too Warm for Christmas

Global warming is real. I used to be able to prep Christmas party food and put it in a cooler in the garage and it would keep for days. Not now. There is no nature’s fridge in sight. Today I made chicken, spinach, mushroom strudels and had a hard time making room in my freezer for the individual bundles. I also made a rum cake that needs to go into the freezer until needed and there is no way I can fit it in tonight. First job tomorrow is seeing what I can do away with to make room for the cake.

Used to be I could chill every party beverage outside before a party, but not now. It seems like investing in ice making companies is a good idea given that things will not be getting better any time soon.

For now I pray that my bulbs don’t start coming up just in time for Christmas. So much for the ugly sweater parties, it’s too hot to wear any sweater. I hope Santa has a nice red bathing suit. It looks like he’s going to need it.